After a few false alarms there is now some clear progress in temperatures warming to more typical spring weather. Night time temperatures continued to drop into the twenties late into last week, but there were a few daytime highs in the sixties, and now the forecast is for highs in the seventies. With a late start the period of typical spring temperatures is likely to be shorter than usual, but there is no reason to suspect that the weather will change right into summer (though people say these things without evidence that it ever really happens).
The buds of the early flowering magnolias are cracking open (above), and I suspect that after a few warm days they will burst into full bloom. With warmer weather over the next week there is little chance that the flowers will be injured by frost, so there is at least some small advantage in flowering a month late. In quick succession, I expect that ‘Dr. Merrill’ and ‘Royal Star’ will bloom, and ‘Jane’ and ‘Elizabeth’ soon after.
There is noticeable swelling of flower buds along the branches on the redbuds, and these are likely to bloom after a week of warm temperatures. Since redbuds often flower at the start of April this is a few weeks behind schedule, but once the weather turns warmer the procession of blooms will quicken so that dogwoods will flower closer to their usual mid April time. Unless temperatures take a turn back, I expect by the end of April the azaleas will be barely behind schedule.
Of course, while the gardener grows impatient if one flower or another is late in arriving, this minor aggravation is short lived. I would prefer more warm days in March, and more flowers, but the delay will only make April so much more marvelous with the blooms of six or seven weeks condensed into four.
With warmer temperatures I’ve made considerable progress cleaning up leaves and other debris. The garden’s five ponds have been tidied up, and the spent foliage of perennials has mostly been removed. The old foliage of daylilies and hostas melts away to almost nothing through the winter, but other foliage is tougher, and cleaning it up is much more difficult once new growth has begun. With cool weather few of the perennials have emerging growth, so I haven’t run into too many problems except for the irises planted in shallow water at the edge’s of the ponds (that are always a chore).
There are still spots where piles of leaves need to be cleaned up, but I’ve gotten around to the worst of them. The leaves are shredded in place so that some planted areas are covered only by leaves, with no mulch. A few beds have a thin covering of bark chunk mulch, but as this decays or floats away I don’t add more. In most areas plants are densely spaced so that weeds are crowded out, and by mid spring little bare ground is evident. The leaves add some nutrients as they decay, and it’s been years since I’ve fertilized anything. There are times when I see lush magazine gardens that I wonder if fertilizing would encourage plants to be more vigorous through late summer, but without regular irrigation I think that the more tender growth would struggle in the heat.
The start of April is an ideal time to plant, except for tender annuals and tropicals that are best held back until the threat of frost and freeze have passed. In particular, with this cold early spring there have been several frosts each week, so it’s best to hold off for another week or two. I’m ready to kick outdoors the elephant ears, agaves, and other tropicals that are overwintered inside, but I don’t dare risk it until later in April or early May.
I’ve recently planted a few trees and shrubs, and I added a handful of new hellebore varieties. There is no disadvantage in planting these, regardless of the threat of late season cold, and the sooner they are established before warm weather, the better. Planting while temperatures are still cool requires less attention to watering, and most often I’m able to plant and forget about any further care.